Flying Past 60

Airline pilot Larry Elmore wanted to celebrate - and to send the Federal Aviation Association a message. He definitely did the former, sky-diving from an airplane 60 times on his 60th birthday. Whether he got his message across remains an open question.

But the FAA should take notice and review, again, the soundness of its rule forcing pilots to give up flying commercial jets when they turn 60. A 1993 review was "inconclusive," according to the FAA officials, who say they still haven't seen hard data based on medical science that would make them feel comfortable changing the rule.

For his part, Mr. Elmore, who worked for Trans World Airlines until last week, already has taken a job as a corporate pilot.

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Elmore rightly contends that if he, and other pilots, can meet the FAA's other stringent requirements for safe piloting of America's passengers, age alone should not be a deciding factor.

The FAA's rule dates back to 1959. Before that, the agency had no set retirement age for pilots. Today, older Americans are enjoying longer life spans and retiring later. More than 30 percent of persons 55 and older participate in the country's workforce. For businesses, mandatory retirement has become the exception; negotiated retirement is more the rule.

Legislation introduced by Sen. Frank Murkowski (R) of Alaska earlier this year was amended to raise the FAA age limit to 63. That's a start toward breaking the age barrier.

Allowing more senior pilots to keep flying will help alleviate potential pilot shortages. Just as important, their wisdom and judgment, born of experience, won't be lost because of an arbitrary, outdated rule.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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